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Learning in Cape Town

Posted 3/19/2013

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This has been a long and quite wonderful day at a pre-conference institute for psychosocial issues of breast cancer care. 

Most of the 40 or so attendees were oncology social workers (and who knew that there was such a person in Egypt or Mauritius!), although there were also some psychologists and other mental health practitioners. One marvelous woman is SIster Agatha who must be in her mid 70s; she has been in Zimbabwe since 1961. When she came as a young nun from Germany, it was still Rhodesia, so she has been in the country through all kinds of changes and difficulties.

The most amazing coincidence is that she worked for many years at the small mission hospital, St Albert's, where my husband is today. Talking with her about the history of that hospital was quite enlightening.

In most ways, the day was not so different than other conferences that I have attended. There were talks on palliative care, on survivorship issues, on couples issues and sexuality. What was very different was the international representation and the rare opportunity to listen to/learn from clinicians from all over Africa as well as a few from Europe, Australia, and Malaysia. Not surprisingly, the bottom line is that cancer is cancer, and women dealing with breast cancer feel the same feelings and face the same issues all over the world. It surely made me grateful that we have access to the quality health care that exists in Boston. We are also fortunate not to have to contend with the strong negative cultural views of breast cancer. I heard many stories about women who had very late diagnoses as they were unwilling to face the possibility, of women whose husbands left them, and whose friends were frightened and ashamed to continue their relationships.

I am so looking forward to the next few days at the larger conference around Breast Cancer Support. I will report back about what I learn and interesting women whom I meet. Here is today's tip: this was discussed in the context of helping people identify their natural strengthes. Check out the VIA Institute on Character at There is a free survey that purports to help you identify your unique individual strengthes, and the reviews were excellent. I plan to take it tonight.


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